Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Housekeeper - Chapter 18 (Part 2 of 2)

The Housekeeper
By Karen Singer

Chapter 18 (Part 2 of 2)

The drive was a long one.  But this time, Janice was riding in a much nicer vehicle, so she enjoyed it much more.  All the way up the interstate highway, through Atlanta, then north on another interstate toward Tennessee.  Chattanooga was just over the border.  The drive took her a major part of the morning, but she was still there well before noon.
The Chattanooga Choo-Choo hotel and restaurant was somewhat of a tourist place in Tennessee, but not so much anymore as it used to be.  Back in the hey-day of train travel, it was a major train station, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo itself was somewhat of a luxury train for passengers.  Later, it was all turned into a hotel and restaurant and even some of the old dining cars were fitted out where people could come and enjoy their meal inside them.  But eventually, the cars were used less and less and now it was mostly just the station that served the meals while the train cars became nothing but static displays of a by-gone error.
As was often the case, the place was somewhat crowded by the time that Janice arrived.  Heading for the main restaurant in the station house, she easily found the reservation desk and gave them her name.
“Yes, Mrs. Stokley,” the girl behind the counter said as she consulted the information before her.  “You’ll have to wait a few minutes please.  We’ll call you when your table is ready.”
Janice moved back out of the way.  Evidently Susan Wu wasn’t there yet. 
About ten minutes later, one of the waiters found her – Chinese, she noted.  “Mrs. Stokley?” he asked.
“Right this way please.”
Janice followed him, but not into the restaurant.  Instead he led her along the rows of old train cars, and finally up to one where there were two rather large Chinese men standing outside.  The waiter motioned her to go up the steps into the car.  Janice thanked him, and glancing at the two guards who were both watching her intently, she climbed the steps up onto the train.
The car was well lit, but after being outside, it seemed fairly dim.  There were dining tables and chairs lining both sides of the long car, although the tables were all bare… except for one table in the very back where she saw a woman sitting, waiting for her.  The woman looked to be in her mid-twenties.  Janice made her way down the center aisle of the train toward the woman.  As she drew near, she noticed that the shades on the windows near the woman were all drawn so nobody could see them from outside the car.  The woman had a feminine briefcase on the table and what looked like a file folder sitting in front of her.  “Miss Wu?” she asked as she stopped just short of the table the woman was sitting at.
Susan Wu smiled.  “Please call me Susan, Janice,” she said kindly as she motioned toward the seat on the other side of the table. 
“Thank you, Susan,” Janice replied as she sat down.  “How is your father?” she asked.
“Quite well, thank you,” Susan replied.  “How is your daughter?”
“Growing way too fast,” Janice replied.  Then she paused uncertainly before saying, “I hope the rest of your family is also well.”
Susan’s smile broadened.  “They are all fine, Janice,” she replied, “and I do thank you for being kind enough to ask.”
Janice breathed a small sigh of relief.  Sometimes it was the little things… the little “formal” things that meant the most.  “What can I do for you Susan?” she asked, knowing that the time for business had come.
Susan opened the file folder in front of her before continuing.  “You’ve given father a rather interesting list of things you’re interested in.  A rather unusual list if I may say so.”
“Yes, I realize that, but your organization has been so… helpful… to me in the past, that I thought you would be the best people to help me with what I require.”
Susan nodded.  “Indeed.  We appreciate your business.  Let us start at the top, shall we?”
“As good a place as any,” Janice replied.
“The first items are very simple,” Susan said.  “The anti-surveillance tools can be found all over the internet and are easily obtainable.  There are a wide variety of devices out there that do a wide variety of things.”
“Yes, I know,” Janice agreed, “but since I’m not familiar with any of them, I thought that you might know the best devices for what I need.  As I told your father, I’m worried about both my home and my car being bugged as well as locator beacons possibly being installed on my car.”
Susan nodded.  “Your concern for these things is much appreciated by us.  I know you are well aware of how discrete we are about our company’s existence.  Therefore, we have several devices we recommend over other brands, one in particular that I’m personally quite fond of should you be interested.”
“Definitely,” Janice agreed.  “I have no doubt that if it’s one that you like, then it will suit my purposes adequately.”
Susan nodded and made a small tick on the paper in front of her with a pen.  “Now then, this next item, the information on the two FBI agents you asked about… this is all information you could get from a private detective if you so wished.”
“Yes, but since they are FBI agents, then I feared that it would raise too many red flags with a regular detective.  I don’t want any chance of this possibly getting back to the FBI at all.  One agent in particular, Agent Jacobs, has hounded me for far too many years.  He is the one that I blame for the drug charge that landed me in prison.  At least, he’s the one I want to blame.  I really have no proof that he was behind it at all.  But either way, he’s hounded me for too many years.  I saw him just last week again outside the home where I’m living now, so he’s up to his old tricks again.  I need to know more about him… and his partner of course.”
Susan nodded again.  “A wise decision, I think.”  She made a short note on the paper in front of her. 
The next item is more in line with what we would usually expect to hear from one of our clients.  We can of course provide complete new identities for both you and your daughter.  Driver’s licenses, passports, bank accounts, and credit cards are all part of the usual mix.  Do you have any special requirements for those identities, or can we let our people simply provide what we feel will be the best for you based on our experience?”
“Just nothing too exotic,” Janice replied.  “I think our new identities should be as close to the ones we have now as possible.”
Susan smiled briefly.  “Of course,” she said as she made another note on her paper.  “The next item is also one that you wouldn’t normally need us for.  The off-shore banking suggestions can easily be set up by you as well.”
“Yes, but I’d like your opinion for the best place to do it.  I know you know about my laundering needs.  I’ve discussed it several times with your father.”
“Yes,” Susan replied, “and you’ve decided against our services each time.”
“I’m afraid your cut is a little too high for me,” Janice explained. “I’ve set a goal for retirement that seems to keep getting larger and larger based on the price of land these days.  The cut you want would make that goal completely out of reach.”
“You get what you pay for, Janice,” Susan told her.
“Yes, I’m aware of that, and everything I’ve paid you for in the past has been more than worth it… which is why I came to you again.  But I simply can’t afford your rates for laundering the money.”
Susan nodded.  “And so I take it that the last item on your list has to do with that prospect?”
“Of course,” Janice replied with a smile.
“But… setting up a company for disaster relief in the islands?”
“Based on the requirements I gave your father,” Janice replied.
Susan nodded.  “You need a legitimate front company set up for receiving goods as well as a trusted working relationship with an already established company.”
“Yes, exactly.  I need a company that can handle receiving the goods that will be shipped, and then hold them until they can be picked up and transferred to my new company.  Eventually, the goods will most likely be transferred back to the original company for distribution.”
“I see,” Susan replied as she again made another note on her paper.  “You know that customs are a most difficult organization to get around if you’re going to try to ship the money out of the country that way.”
“Customs can go through those boxes all they want,” Janice replied.  “I will only be shipping legitimate items over there and nothing else!  There will be nothing at all for customs to complain about.  And if there is, then I know that someone somewhere will have tampered with my goods!  And that won’t make me very happy.  And I have no doubt that you’re aware of what I’m capable of doing should I find that someone tampered with my goods.”
Susan looked at her for a few moments, then nodded.  “Yes, Janice, we’re well aware of that as well.”  She made more notes on her paper before looking up and continuing.  “Mrs. Stokley, I’m sure that you’re aware of how much all this is going to cost you.  Is it worth all that over what our company would charge you to simply launder the money for you?”
Janice nodded.  “Yes.  I’ve had a lot of time to think about this in prison and I have it all well planned.  I’m quite sure that this is the best course of action for everything I intend to do.”
Susan studied her for a moment again before asking, “Everything you intend to do?  So I take it there’s more to this than just getting your money out of the country.”
Janice’s eyebrows went up.  “Of course,” she replied… but she didn’t offer any more information.  That was business that Susan Wu didn’t need to know about.
Susan looked at her for a few more moments hoping to learn more, but Janice wasn’t forth-coming at all so she moved on.  She closed the folder in front of her and put it away into her case.  Then she pulled another folder out of that case and held it in her hands a moment as she considered what was in the folder.  Then she passed it across the table to Janice.
Janice opened the folder in front of her that appeared to hold a number of documents… and saw a large picture of a young woman.  She noted the slightly oriental features that suggested that perhaps this woman could have been the result of the union between an American man and a Chinese woman.  “She’s quite beautiful,” she remarked.  “Who is she?”
“My best friend in the world,” Susan replied… and the real reason I wanted to meet with you personally today.”
Janice had been somewhat sure that there would be an ulterior motive for this unprecedented meeting.  And now she was about to find out the details.  She was somewhat relieved that Mr. Wu didn’t seem to have a real problem with her.  She studied the picture for a moment before again asking, “Who is she?”
Instead of answering directly, Susan started from another direction.  “Mrs. Stokley,” she said, “when father told me last week that you had called, it seemed at the time to be a very precipitous bit of information.  You see, at the time you called, I was in Augusta, not all that far from where you’re living right now… looking into her death.”
Janice looked up quickly.  “Her death?”
“Yes.  She was murdered!”
Things were rapidly going in strange directions for Janice.  “Murdered!  How awful!”
“Yes!  Her name was Leila Rivers.  She was my roommate all through college and we remained very close friends ever since.”
“Leila Rivers,” Janice repeated as she studied the picture again.  “A pretty name for a beautiful woman.  What do the police say about the crime?”
“The police are useless!”
Janice looked up at her quickly.  “And why is that?”
Susan paused before continuing.  “Leila was engaged to a man in Augusta for almost a year.  A businessman of very good standing.  But towards the end, she had some… concerns.  Then suddenly, I received notice that she had been murdered.  The police of course investigated rigorously, but came up totally blank as to who had done it.  There was not one bit of convincing evidence at all.  And now the case has been shoved aside in favor of… newer or perhaps more promising cases for them.”
“I see,” Janice replied as she went back to studying the picture again.  She looked back up at Susan.  “But you have your suspicions?”
Susan nodded.  “Yes.  If you’ll turn to the next picture please.”
Janice turned the picture in front of her over, revealing another large picture… this time of a man.  He was a fairly handsome man that she guessed would be in his late thirties or perhaps early forties.  Much older than Leila Rivers appeared to be. 
“That is Joseph Halifax.  He is the man that Leila was engaged to.  He was a very prominent entrepreneur for a while but now he mostly concentrates on venture capital initiatives.”
“And this is the man you suspect killed her,” Janice noted as she continued to study the picture.
Susan paused for just a moment before speaking.  “Yes!  But even I wasn’t able to come up with anything conclusive.”
“I see,” said Janice as she set the folder down on the table and looked up at Susan.  “And why are you showing this to me?”
“Mrs. Stokley… Janice,” Susan corrected herself, “The cost for the list of items you’ve requested will be quite large.  What if I offered to pay that entire fee for you… out of my own personal funds?”
“That’s a very generous offer,” Janice noted.  “And what do you want from me in return?”
“You’re aware of course, that if I simply wanted that man dead, he would already be dead… I could either have someone take care of it for me, or in this case, I was more than prepared to handle that little chore myself.”
“I have no doubt,” Janice replied.
“But when father told me you had called, it came at a time when I was trying to decide exactly how to handle the situation.  And the moment he told me of your call, I immediately thought of you to handle it for me.”
“You want me to kill him?  You know I’ve never killed anyone in my life… and I’d rather not start now!”
“No!” Susan replied.  “That’s not what I want at all.  Father and I have discussed this a few times over the last few days.  We’re very aware of what you’ve done to other men in the past.  You’re… talent… is rather… unique… and it could quite possibly be of further use to us in the future.  So we’d like to look at this as a test case.  A trial case if you will.  If we’re satisfied, then perhaps we can continue to do business this way in the future.”
“I see,” replied Janice thoughtfully…. dragging the two words out just to give her a few more moments to digest that information.  “So what is it exactly that you want from me?”
“What I want from you… is to get the truth out of that man.  If he isn’t the man who killed Leila, then I need to keep looking until I do find who killed her.  But if it turns out that he was the killer, then simply murdering him will be far too easy for him!  Which is why I thought of you in the first place.  I want him to suffer!  If he killed her, then I want him to suffer for the rest of his life!  And you have a talent for making that happen.”
Now Janice fully understood.  She picked up the picture of Halifax again, then set it down and turned over the picture of Leila to study that again.  “And if it turns out that he didn’t kill her?”
Susan shrugged.  “The man is of no concern to us.  You can do what you like with him.  In fact, either way, if you can get at his money, you’re welcome to it.  That is no concern to us either.  I’m simply interested in whether or not he murdered Leila.  And I want absolute proof of that!  Then if he did kill her, then I want to know that he’s going to suffer for it for a very, very long time!”
Janice nodded.  “I see,” she said again.  She thought things through for a moment.  “And if I don’t do this?”
Susan shrugged.  “Then you’ll have to pay for what you ordered of course… and this meeting never took place.”
Janice nodded.  Her words were a relief.  She looked down at the picture of Leila again and picked it up.  “She was a beautiful woman,” she said again.  “It would be a horrible crime for her killer to go unpunished.”
Susan could have replied, but she remained silent. 
Janice put the photo down and quickly dug through the other papers in the folder.  “I take it everything I need to know is in here?”
“Everything you should need,” Susan confirmed, now somewhat sure that Janice would accept the assignment.
Janice closed the folder in front of her and sat back in her chair and looked at Susan.  “All money I can obtain from him is mine?” she asked.
“All of it,” Susan confirmed.  “I only want the killer punished… if it is him.  If it’s not him…” she shrugged, “then I don’t care what happens to him.  He’s no longer of any concern to us and he can be… shall we say… another of your conquests.”
Janice nodded.  A moment later, a smile broke out on her face.  “Perhaps my retirement fund can grow a bit healthier.  I would imagine that a venture capitalist would have plenty of money available.”
Susan smiled.  “I would imagine,” she agreed.  She dug back into her briefcase and pulled out a box and pushed it across the table to Janice.  “A little token of my appreciation.  I took the liberty of bringing one of the anti-surveillance devices we spoke of earlier.  I have no doubt you will put it to good use.”
Janice was very surprised.  “Thank you,” she said.  “I appreciate that.”
“I think then, that our business here is concluded for now,” Susan said.  “At least until you can find out if Halifax is guilty or not.  Do you have any questions?”
“No questions,” Janice replied, “but I do have one more minor request.”
“Another request?”
“Another,” Janice confirmed.  “I believe I’m going to need a doctor.”
“A doctor?” Susan asked.  “And naturally, this doctor will need to be a woman,” she stated.


sarah penguin said...

Oh wow :)

ADietrech said...

WOW! I SERIOUSLY did not see anything like THIS coming! Now I understand why Karen referred to her (Them) as "evil" in the story prologue - it WASN'T just hyperbole, evidently. So many twists and turns now, I start to despair of being around long enough to read the final chapter of this story - too much to resolve. But I LOVE it!